The future for new dimensions in additive manufacturing holds promise for novel design processes and industrial applications. Starting with spatial control, the scales of 3D printing are continuing to expand on both the small and large scales. In the coming years, we will see infrastructure made through automated additive techniques. Buildings printed, assembled, and dynamically measured will create responsive architecture. Conversely, the nano-scale will begin to merge with the product-scale through novel printing techniques such as two-photon absorption curing. We will see the development of a multitude of applications empowered by these new nano-scale machines, ranging from structural color, to on-product mechanism arrays, and widespread sensors/interfaces.
Spatial limitations are just one frontier — new printed materials and graded properties hold potential for design to move beyond combining standardized parts. With current optical printers capable of dynamically mixing base materials to print in multiple materials, products can be customized to design environments. Gradients of stiffness, translucency, and density have made possible a new language of monolithic design in which integration offers significant benefits in functionality, efficiency, and ease of fabrication. Moving forward, the research direction of multimaterial printers will progress with more materials such as composites, ceramics, and metals. Research work is pushing the materials dimension toward active electronic properties, such as printable circuit boards, integrated digital sensors, and batteries. For designers, the ability to create complex products is becoming simpler, faster, and accessible. At the moment, this complexity is defined as shape/material sophistication, though it will continue to grow into electronics, at-scale manufacturing, and in the more distant future, biological complexity.
Ending on a biological note, design is often inspired by natural organisms. Current research directions predict a future of design in which organisms themselves can be designed. Although current 3D printing techniques are limited in the temporal dimension (print time) due to speed/resolution/geometric scale, biology has found solutions through growth and adaptability. Turning to synthetic biology, the concept of a digitally controlled (top-down), biologically designed (bottom-up) fabrication system holds mesmerizing potential for fast growth of significantly complex systems. Even though the field of synthetic biology is still in its infancy and there is enormous work to be done, encouraging examples of grown bricks, tunable biofilms, and designed biological calculators hint at the design capabilities. The concept of a biologically grown house, self-healing vascular networks in our products, and integrated electronics with biology are exciting ideas for future focus. Overall, the possibilities of combining digital controls, logic, and memory with the biological power of scaling, resolution, paralleling, and material/energy sourcing are limitless.
We are excitedly enthused by the potential to explore new dimensions of 3D printing in spatial scale (construction-scale and nano-scale), material possibilities (multimaterial gradient properties), and temporal considerations (parallelization and biological combinations). The future for additive techniques is bright and we look forward to continued developments in the field.